10 Signs You’re About to Fall for a Bad Airbnb Listing
There are a lot of amazing rentals on Airbnb—and a lot of not-so-great ones. Here, experts shed light on key indicators that you should pass on a rental—or worse, that you’re about to fall for an Airbnb scam.
Photos that leave you with more questions than answers
The best listings will provide a virtual photo tour of the space you will temporarily call home. On the other end of the spectrum, a questionable listing will have photos of the outside area, the neighborhood, and the street…but not what you care about the most: the bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen, says Nerissa Marbury, CEO and chief digital officer of One Epiphany, who has booked everything from entire homes to private rooms in 12 cities across five countries. “If the listing has limited photos, it doesn’t hurt to ask the host for more photos. And if the host offers a lame excuse as to why this isn’t possible, be wary,” she says.
You can’t find any reviews…
When you’re shopping for anything from a mattress to a blender, what information is most valuable to you? Reviews from internet strangers, your friends, your neighbor—anyone—who will provide insight about their experience. The same goes for an Airbnb listing. If there are few to no reviews, you should proceed with caution, says Sara Mosadegh, an Airbnb host and property manager. While every new listing will start from square one, if you are considering booking a listing with no feedback and a host who isn’t responding, run away!
…or you are only finding negative reviews
You might find a property with tons of reviews—but are any of them peachy? The only thing worse than no feedback is negative criticisms of a listing, Mosadegh says. “Reviews that say negative things about Wi-Fi, neighbors, or neighborhood safety are important to sort through. That’s why you should take the time to read all reviews and dig deep,” she explains. She also recommends following up on reviews that mention construction, since that could change or improve over time. “Review comments may not be a deal breaker but are always something you should weigh,” she adds.
You aren’t finding photos that match the description
Use your investigative skills to see if the description matches the pictures provided, urges Jessica Norak, a travel writer and frequent Airbnb user. “If the text says ‘luxury apartment’ and you see chipped paint, uneven concrete floors, and little furniture pictured, it probably is not a luxury apartment,” she explains. “Be sure to check the photos that have been verified or taken by Airbnb, and use those to inform what you think the apartment will be like, rather than the description, if the two do not match.” This is also one of the signs you’re about to book a bad hotel.
You can’t believe the price
Finding a good deal is often a double-edged sword: Saving money is always a bonus, but it’s important to understand why a place is far below market value compared with other listings, notes Veronica Silva, a graphic designer, digital nomad, and frequent Airbnb guest. As she puts it, there’s often a reason, so don’t just believe you scored a budget-friendly option right off the bat. “Maybe the neighborhood is not great, or the place itself is lacking something and the host is just trying to make up for it,” she explains. When in doubt, you should ask your potential host to provide further insight on how he or she arrived at the rate.
You’re finding errors
Sure, not everyone is a writer or an expert on grammar, but if you keep finding contradictions in the listing, you have reason to raise an eyebrow. As Marbury says, sometimes there are honest-to-goodness typos because the host has more than one listing or isn’t a native English speaker, but if you are reading about a “backyard” and there isn’t one pictured, you should feel empowered to ask for clarity. If you can’t correspond effectively with the host, Marbury says to run.
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You aren’t sure whether it’s legal
Here’s the deal: As Airbnb grew in popularity, various city, state, and country officials started heavily regulating what’s permitted—and what’s not. Norah says that to protect yourself—and to lower the risk of hiccups once you’ve landed—it’s important to ensure that your listing has a business license or a registration number. “In many cities, Airbnb properties need to be legally registered to be operated as an Airbnb,” she explains. Barcelona, Spain, and San Francisco, California, are two such destinations, but you should research the rules of any place you trek to. You may even be asked at customs for this information, and having it on hand will ward off any confusion or difficulties. “Airport officials in the Seychelles checked to make sure our Airbnb was registered when we arrived at the airport,” Norah says. Where to find it? She says for most of these cities, you will find a business or city license-registration number listed somewhere on the property description.
You booked the first place you found
Many unpleasant travel experiences can be avoided if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do your due diligence to ensure that you’re booking what you want, Marbury notes. After all, you can’t expect a place to be 100 percent up to your standards if you didn’t take the time to research the details you were booking. “If strong and consistent Wi-Fi is important to you, don’t assume all Wi-Fi speeds are equal across all listings. Or, if you’re a light sleeper and the bedroom window faces a main intersection, you should ask about the traffic noise,” she explains. When you read through descriptions, keep an eye out for what a host is trying to tell you, instead of rushing to find something so you can check it off your to-do list. “Good hosts prefer to manage your expectations before you click ‘book’ because it equates to less headaches for them, too,” she adds.
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Your host is taking forever to respond
When you browse through profiles, don’t disregard the response rate. Especially if you are traveling to an unfamiliar destination where you won’t be fluent in the native language, having a speedy, available host is essential. Marbury says that it’s a major red flag when your host takes forever to respond to you—or doesn’t reply at all. “A host who isn’t able to respond to an inquiry within a reasonable amount of time is typically a host who will not respond to you any faster when you have an issue you want resolved within the home after checking in,” she explains.
You feel like it’s too good to be true
Whether the home is spectacular and far too affordable, the location seems impossible for your travel dates, or all of the above and more, take the time to listen to your gut, suggests travel journalist Kinga Philipps. Sometimes, the photos just seem too perfect (they could be faked!) or a quick Google reveals the listing appearing on multiple sites. Ask your host as many questions as necessary to make sure you are 100 percent certain before you hit “book,” and make sure that all your communication and payments happen through the Airbnb app or website. Doing so will ensure that you are covered by the company’s anti-scam policies, as they have layers of defense in place to evaluate reservations for risks and protect hosts and users. Airbnb also conducts background checks on hosts and guests in the United States.